From the Powel House to Chamounix Mansion to Eastern State Penitentiary in One Map

I love making connections between things, and since I’m working on three 19th-century topics this summer (Elizabeth Powel’s account books 1815-1822; Chamounix Mansion, built 1802-1803; Eastern State Penitentiary, built 1820s [my day job]) I’ve been looking for ways to link them all. I’m sure there are many more ways, but one of my recent discoveries is this map from the David Rumsey Map collection, an 1802 map from  Charles P. Varle:

To get a more zoomable version, click here.

First of all, I think the map is stunning; the colors are bright, the lettering and detailing are neat; it even includes a little sketch of what we now know as Independence Hall. Then we get into the minutiae I want to point out.

Just under the “WEST” in West Philadelphia, you can read “Mrs. Powel’s House,” the house to which Elizabeth moved after her husband’s death in 1793. It is her life at that house that is documented in the account books I’m studying this summer.

Now find New Hickory Lane, the diagonal road north of Callowhill Street. Find the home of J. (Joseph) Warner. That is the plot of land (or it’s one very nearby) that Eastern State sits on today. Joseph and his brother Benjamin sold that land to the state in 1821.

One thing not shown on this map is the plot of land on which George Plumsted built Chamounix Mansion; that lies north of the upper limits of the map and the mansion was built the same year the map was published. But there’s a connection anyway. After Plumsted died, his widow was forced to sell the property to Mr. Benjamin Johnson, who in 1813 sold a chunk of the estate, including the mansion, to Benjamin Warner. Yes, that Benjamin Warner! When Benjamin died in 1828 (a year before the Eastern State opened), Chamounix passed to his brother Joseph.

Oh, and also, four early members of the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons (which initiated the Eastern State Penitentiary project), Thomas, Caspar, Bartholomew, and Richard Wistar, were second cousins twice removed (if I did my genealogical math correctly) from Frances Anne Wister. Wister, of course, began the Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks and spearheaded the preservation and reconstruction of the home (on 3rd Street, not shown on the Varle map above) of Elizabeth and Samuel Powel!

Margaret Wistar, daughter of Thomas, was also married to Roberts Vaux, a leading voice in the PSAMPP and the author of a biography of Anthony Benezet (noted Abolitionist) that appears on the Powel House bookshelf. The provenance of this particular volume is unclear, but it seems consistent with Elizabeth’s abolitionist stance.


Marianna Thomas Architects, “Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Structures Report, Volume I. ” July 21, 1994:

Milton Rubincam, “The Wistar-Wister Family: A Pennsylvania Family’s Contributions Toward American Cultural Development,” Pennsylvania History vol. 20, no. 2, April 1953:

“A Brief History of Chamounix Mansion,”:

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